American Girl

by Libby Ellis

A leap into the unknown Vietnam


I was drinking beer in a café in Nha Trang when a young guy approached and said, "I'm Johnny. My friends own a resort and I know the only guy in my town with a car. It's the most beautiful place you have ever seen. Come to my home." Usually, I would have said no, or smiled politely and lied a "maybe." But, he looked dorky and sweet. And there had been the beer. The driver was the Fonz to Johnny's Richie Cunningham. With them, was a girl. "This is my Aunt Trang, she's moving to Alaska to marry a very rich man. We'll will stop and get her papers." As the resorts faded into the distance, I got nervous. We were leaving tourist Vietnam and heading into what, I didn't know. I wanted to be back in the hotel having had the amazing experience of doing something like this without actually having to do it. Trang was 20 and super cute. Her future husband, 47, red-faced and a dead ringer for the guy you'd cast to play someone that mail orders a child bride. Keeping an upbeat tone, I asked if she liked him. She giggled a little and shrugged. I asked if she was excited. She shook her head, wide-eyed. "Scared." The village looked like a postcard-bright blue skies and sea with boats docked on the sand, their painted-on eyes facing the horizon. Houses dotted the streets and most didn't have front walls, which gave them the exposed look of stages. In his living room, Johnny showed off the certificate celebrating his English skills. He told us that he was the only guy in town with such credentials. But without Trang, even Johnny the golden boy didn't have a ticket to America. Over lunch-charred frog-Johnny shared his long-term plan: Come back and open a coffee shop. He may have some competition, he added casually, because the land we were on was to be developed into resorts and the village would be moved inland. After lunch, we went to a fenced-off government building; the three of them went in. Johnny came out and explained that he had to run home because he forgot something. He took off, then I realized that my money and passport were in the car. Total panic set in. After 15 minutes, the car pulled up and the crisis I invented was over. I was ashamed that I was so quick to lose faith in them. Trang came out, we gathered around to look at the passport photo. Her smiling face was framed by her thin headband. We hugged. Then, we headed back to Nha Trang so she could get to the passport office by 4pm and take the next step toward her new life as an American woman.